Human Rights, Religion and Democracy: A visit to the Institute on Religion and Democracy

By M.A Student, Fr. Ambrose Ekeroku, OCD

On Wednesday 27th September, 2023, the current Master of Arts (M.A.) in Human Rights students from the Catholic University of America visited the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) located in 15th Street NW, Washington, DC. The Team was led by Prof. William Saunders, the Director of Human Rights Program at CUA and Suzanne Beecher, Director of Studies at the Institute of Human Ecology, CUA. The purpose of the visit was to avail students the opportunity to gain insights into the intersection of human rights, religion and democracy, as well as to understand the role of IRD in shaping discourse and policies in this field.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy is a non-profit organization that works to reaffirm the social and political influence of religion. The institute focuses on promoting religious freedom, democracy, and the values of civil society. It operates through research, publications, and advocacy initiatives.

The visit began with a warm welcome by Mark Tooley, the president and some staff members of IRD. Mark is also editor of IRD’s foreign policy and national security journal, Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy. He informed us that he is a graduate of Georgetown University, had eight years stint at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) before he joined IRD in 1994 to found its United Methodist project (UMAction) and became IRD president in 2009. Mark provided an overview of the institute’s 42-year history, vision, mission statements, ongoing projects of IRD and the changing perception of democracy as well as religious views in the present-day American society. The following are key takeaways from the visit; a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between human rights, religion and democracy, highlighting the nuances and challenges involved in balancing religious freedom with democratic values. The students learned about the crucial role advocacy organizations like IRD play in safeguarding religious freedoms globally and promoting democratic principles within diverse religious contexts. Students also were exposed to the operational aspects of sustaining programs within a non-profit organization like IRD. Prof. William Saunders emphasized the significance of fundraising for NGOs, enlightening students to explore channels to raise funds which is the live wire of non-profit organizations.Finally, the visit opened up networking among students and experts, fostering a sense of community and collaboration among individuals passionate about the intersection of human rights, religion and democracy.

The visit to the Institute on Religion and Democracy was an enriching experience for the M.A. students, providing them with valuable insights, knowledge, and networking opportunities. It not only enhanced their understanding of the complexities of the subject but also inspired them to consider the importance of advocacy and research in promoting human rights, religious freedom and democratic values worldwide.